Trump Strikes Syria (And the Possible Consequences)
What happens now?
Trump’s strike on Syria is a violation of international law and the United Nations Carter—to which the United States is a party—according to a number of legal experts. “This military action is illegal,” Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, said in a statement. “In the face of constitutional law barring hostile use of force without congressional authorization, and international law forbidding unilateral use of force except in self-defense, President Trump has unilaterally launched strikes against a country that has not attacked us — and without any authorization from Congress. Doing so violates some of the most important legal constraints on the use of force.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense confirms that none of its forces were struck during the attack, which means that Moscow will not likely retaliate via military means. “None of the cruise missiles launched by the United States and its allies entered the zones of Russian air defenses around Tartus and Hmeymim," the Russian Defense Ministry told TASS.
Indeed, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said that France had warned Russia ahead of time to ensure the Kremlin’s forces were not caught in the crossfire. “We refuse any possibility of military escalation,” Parly said. "We had ensured that the Russians were warned beforehand."
However, the Russian government has reacted with fury to the Trump’s strike on Syria—and is promising there will be consequences. “The worst apprehensions have come true. Our warnings have been left unheard,” Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said in a statement. “A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris. Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible. The U.S. – the possessor of the biggest arsenal of chemical weapons – has no moral right to blame other countries.”
Iran, which also has forces engaged in Syria, condemned the allied attack. “The attack is the blatant violation of international laws, as well as ignoring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria,” Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, said. “No doubt the US and its allies that are engaged a military intervention in Syria without any substantiated document and before any final report of the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and have supposed themselves as the world police and judge, are responsible for regional and international repercussions of the adventure, and should be held accountable.”
Trump’s Message to Russia and Iran
Given the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, Trump is demanding that Russia and Iran abandon their Syrian ally. “I also have a message tonight for the two governments most responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing the criminal Assad regime,” Trump said. “To Iran, and to Russia, I ask: What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children? The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants, and murderous dictators.”
Trump called out Russia’s failure to ensure that Syria would not use chemical weapons. “In 2013, President Putin and his government promised the world that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons,” Trump said. “Assad’s recent attack—and today’s response—are the direct result of Russia’s failure to keep that promise.”
Trump said that Russia has choice to make—either join the United States and its allies or become a pariah. “Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path, or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace,” Trump said. “Hopefully, someday we’ll get along with Russia, and maybe even Iran—but maybe not.”
The United States Will Not Stay Indefinitely
At the same time, Trump said that the United States will eventually withdraw from Syria—as the president had signaled in previous weeks. “America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances,” Trump said. “As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home. And great warriors they are.”
Trump set forth limited aims. He depicted the problems in the Middle East as close to intractable. “Looking around our very troubled world, Americans have no illusions. We cannot purge the world of evil, or act everywhere there is tyranny,” Trump said. “No amount of American blood or treasure can produce lasting peace and security in the Middle East. It’s a troubled place. We will try to make it better, but it is a troubled place. The United States will be a partner and a friend, but the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.”
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.